Monday, December 30, 2013

Well, the Sony A7r is no Leica M...

But we all knew that, right?

I guess my title would be obvious to most people, but the promise of a relatively low-cost, compact, low-light-capable, hi-rez wonder that would accept my M-mount glass was too much to resist and I picked up a Sony A7r (and its native 35mm prime) to try out. I was honestly hoping to avoid the "upgrade cost" from my Leica M9 to the new M 240.

Don't misunderstand me, the A7r is an absolutely fantastic camera - with it's native glass. But I'm finding with adapted lenses its far too fiddly, and I'm not even talking about the problems with wide-angle lenses.
Part of the issue is that focus peaking is not very accurate on the A7r - it will get you in the ballpark but then you have to click a button for a magnified view to finish tweaking focus. Conversely, focus peaking has been spot-on on my Sony NEX 6 and Ricoh GXR.

There are other problems as well: Edges and corners, even with "normal" FOV glass can be unacceptably soft and occasionally smeared. Weird reflective artifacts, even on a vanilla lens like the 50mm Cron have ruined a few shots as well. On some shots I'm seeing unusual rainbow refraction around bright specular highlights. The lens compensation app, while promising at first for wide-angle use, is too limited and has proved mostly a time waster. The battery life is a joke, even with wifi and image review turned off.

If the A7r had been anything like a full-frame version of the Ricoh GXR (with A12 mount) it would have been perfect. That oddball machine is such a sorely-underrated little camera!

As it stands, I'm selling my A7r and getting back on a waiting list for the M 240, but I thought I'd post this as a bit of a cautionary tale for any other Leicaphiles thinking the A7r attractive as a "second body" for their Leica glass. It *can* work with a lot of fiddling around, as I did get a lot of wonderful shots, but in the end I found the camera itself kept getting in the way of the picture-taking process.

Despite the fact that it's getting a bit long-in-the-tooth, my Leica M9 is still a fabulous camera...I just wish it was better in low light, had a bit more resolution and had live view for critical framing, which is why I'm still pining for the new M. ;)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Things I'm discovering about Sony's A7r...

Things to consider:

The A7r and even A7 can handily out-resolve many vintage lenses. A lot of vintage lenses aren't very well coated, further reducing contrast and image quality.

So far, with my A7r, only the very best of my lenses have proved useful - my Leica rangefinder glass especially has been up to the task, but they're mostly modern pieces. Using them on the A7r has been a bit "fiddly" though...don't know if this is a deal-breaker yet.

The native FE 35mm is astoundingly sharp, even when pixel-peeping. This lens will spend a lot of time on the camera. The 55mm looks to be even sharper. These lenses are bargains for their asking price in my opinion.

I'm not saying vintage glass is useless but I'm finding the A7r body doesn't really shine until you match it with a lens worthy of its massive resolution.

Zeiss FE 35mm f/2.8

CZ Jena 20mm f/2.8 Prakticar

Zeiss FE 35mm f/2.8

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sony A7r - First Few Shots

Well, the Sony A7r is very promising! Too bad the last few days have been dark, rainy Winter workdays here in the PNW. :)
I tried a variety of manual glass on it with decent results.
I'd say it is a demanding camera...but probably no more so than the 5DmkII was. I'll be using the EVF most of the time I think for the added stability. 

I wish Sony would allow me to set the slowest shutter speed limit in aperture-priority mode...been shooting manual mode with auto-ISO because of that...

Picture quality is gorgeous, even at 100% magnification, and even with some vintage lenses I was worried weren't up to snuff. Zeiss made some amazing glass...still do for that matter if the new FE 35mm f/2.8 is anything to go by.

Can't wait 'till the weekend when I can really put it through its paces but, in the meantime, here's a few shots. Click to enlarge:

Voigtlander 50mm Nokton f/1.5

Voigtlander 50mm Nokton f/1.5

Voigtlander 50mm Nokton f/1.5

Voigtlander 50mm Nokton f/1.5

Voigtlander 40mm Nokton f/1.4

CZ Jena Prakticar 20mm f/2.8

Minolta MC Rokkor 58mm f/1.2

Leica 50mm Summicron f/2

And here's a 100% crop from the above photo. This was shot at 1/60 (in crappy light by the way)...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Black & White

Sometimes you have to get rid of the color to avoid unnecessary distractions...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Power Of Tilt

The Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II is an astounding lens! Tilting for an infinite depth of field allows for magical renderings shot with the aperture wide open.

Setup and adjustment is all manual and takes a very long time but I think the results speak for themselves. Something ineffable about the look of these. ^_^

Click for larger views...


Power Outage

Stuck in a diner when the power went out. Luckily I was at the counter by the front window.

Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 Nokton on Sony NEX-6 again...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 Nokton - Second Gig

Finally got a chance to do some some real-world shooting with the Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 lems. This time I used it on a Sony NEX-6 with a Metabones adapter.

Quite a lot of character but thankfully a very appealing one.

Click for larger photos...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Bundle Up...

Autumn is settling in and it's the rainy season here in the PNW again. Add on a few layers and get out there with your camera, but don't forget to have a warm drink or two while you're out and about.

The following were all shot with the Leica M9-P and the 35mm Summilux ASPH.
Click for larger images...

Friday, November 8, 2013

"Detail Oriented" vs. "Perfectionist Gearhead"

So...I preordered the Sony A7r. 

A friend asked why I needed a camera with such a big sensor and high pixel count, which is a very good question. My answer wasn't just "because I'm a gearhead"...though that is partly true and would have helped me avoid a lot of typing.

I have a pocket camera I have with me every day that has a 12.1MP 1/1.7" MOS Sensor paired with a 28-200mm equivalent zoom and I find its output quite acceptable for most things...especially considering it really does fit in my pants pocket! (Most "pocket cams" are HUGE.)
The sensor size limits its dynamic range, noise floor, low light capability and DOF rendering but it's still fine for a good third of the kinds of things I like to photograph and its easy to always have with me.

But if I'm going to climb to the top of a volcano in Hawaii (next February) to capture amazing vistas or go trekking through a temple in Belize to discover the ancient Mayan
genius loci, which is on my "to do" list, I'm bringing the best camera I have paired with the best glass I have because I want the best dynamic range, the lowest noise floor and highest detail possible. You can always downsample, resize or crop if you want but you can never "add back" what isn't there in the first place. I figure, hey, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing to the best possible result.
The critical thing for me right now is I want the sensor to resolve slightly better than the lens, which is no small task considering I have some superb glass right now.

Admittedly, over a certain density, say 20MP or so, the number of pixels is unimportant - especially if the pixel size is too small! That new 40mp smartphone can only produce 5MP images that aren't a smeary mess - the rest are for oversampling but, hey, consumers think "more megapixels are better" - definitely not true for small sensors.

The new Sony A7r looks about right for my needs based on the full-size images I've looked at - plus it's about five thousand dollars less than the Leica M 240 which, until the A7r came around, was my only upgrade path from my Leica M9.
If I had a different set of lenses, the Nikon D800e would probably appeal to me for the same reasons.
The A7r's tiny flange distance is also great because it means I can use ALL my glass, including current Leica, Voigtlander and MS Optical M-mount lenses as well as legacy lenses like my vintage Carl Zeiss Jena wide-angles (20mm, 25mm & 28mm) and the venerable Minolta MC Rokkor 58mm f/1.2 (best bokeh ever).

The largest prints I currently have made is 12"x18" though I've only done a dozen or so that least so far. There's a few images of mine I'd like to print really big say 2'X3' but we'll see.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Some think a famous sports figure with a contract with a shoe company is a hero. For others its a parent or someone who touched their life personally in a profound way.

For me it's someone who holds a beacon for us all. My heroes are Carl Sagan, Joseph Campbell and James Burke.

Carl Sagan, the astrochemist is probably most well-known as the creator of the landmark television documentary about the universe we live in, 'Cosmos'.
One of his best books was 'The Demon Haunted World', a treatise on the power of Science to act as a shining light in the current shadowed climate of superstition, religious zealotry and disdain for intellect.
Instead of embracing the unknown, people embrace unknowing - the dumbing-down of textbooks by the removal of things well known to any geneticist or organic chemist so as to cater to the narrow beliefs of a religious minority is only one of the symptoms. Psychics, astrology charts and horoscopes are commonly consulted. There's a tendency towards escapism instead of fixing the thing people are escaping from. Ignorance of every flavor and shade dressed up as knowledge surrounds us - and people are embracing this ignorance with open arms. Carl looks at the explosion of pseudoscience and "junk science" as integral components of modern culture and exposes them for the subversion of reason that they are.

Joseph Campbell is the author of "Hero With a Thousand Faces" and a number of television programs, most notably 'The Power of Myth' with Bill Moyers.
Joseph was a man of real wisdom who showed through his books and lectures on spirituality and comparative religion, a person can be both Spiritual and Religious without burning any bridges, without excluding anybody and, most importantly, without giving up Reason - we can be both Scientist and Pilgrim.
By finding the common threads of spirituality in all traditions, Joseph helped me realize long ago that there are many paths to one goal and Belief isn't always about us and them. Aboriginal shaman or Roman Catholic, Buddhist or Jew, Muslim or Hindu, Shinto or Zoroastrian, we all tell the same stories and are filled with the same light. The spark of the infinite is within and it is up to us to fan it into a bright flame, tempered by wisdom and knowledge, so that we may illuminate the way in these dark times.

James Burke is known for his books and television series about the interconnectedness of historical events. "Connections" and "The Day The Universe Changed" are probably his most well-known series and certainly my favorites. He shows how our growth of understanding of the universe around us changes the way we see the universe and, in effect, changes the universe itself - for example, the Sun no longer orbits the earth, does it?
James shows how events in history are connected to and influence other, sometimes seemingly-unrelated, events - everything is linked in an intricate web of cause and effect. History is not isolated events happening in a rigid linear timeline but a cross-pollination of events large and insignificant, near and far, obvious and hidden happening in a continuous matrix.
One of my favorite trails of cause and effect shows how Napoleon's invasion of Egypt was very important to the development of the modern computer:
1 - Napoleons troops, while in Egypt, buy up a lot of intricately woven shawls.
2 - When they get home, this starts a fashion craze for the complex fabrics.
3 - Looms are designed in Europe to copy these designs controlled with paper cards with holes punched in them.
4 - The American engineer Herman Hollerith borrows this the idea to automate the mechanical retrieval of census data with punched paper cards.
5 - Later, these cards are used to get data in and out of ENIAC, the first electronic computer.

I think Carl, Joseph and James slip right under most peoples' radar but, to me, they're examples for all of us, holding candles in the midst of the vast spiritual and mental darkness of pervasive ignorance, fear and superstition that I see so much of these days.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 Nokton

I just got a nice little box from UPS this afternoon!

I needed a good normal prime lens for my Ricoh GXR M-mount camera and had been trying a variety of lenses. I've been very happy with Voigtlander's rangefinder lenses, especially for the price. I currently have the 25mm f/4 Color-Skopar and the 15mm f/4.5 Heliar Asph II and have found them both to be extremely useful, if a little slow.

For the low price, I wasn't expecting much from the 40 but the 1.4 speed was very attractive! I'm glad I got it because on my GXR, the performance is excellent - even wide-open. The build quality isn't too shabby either - it's no Leica but the construction seems to be mostly metal and the tolerances seem to be well-met.

The 40mm Nokton gives me a 60mm equivalent field of view on the GXR which is a tad tight for a Normal lens but I'm actually finding it useful. I've tried numerous 50mm lenses and they are always too confining. I'll probably try out Voigtlander's 35mm f/2.5 at some point as well.

In some instances the bokeh is a bit busy but mostly I find it appealing and have had no problem shooting wide open for the lion's share of these following shots. These were just shot around the house in available evening light. I plan on taking this guy out as part of my regular GXR kit on my next photo jaunt...more photos then.

Click for larger images:

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